Oh English, You Funny Language, You
As one might easily discern, although I greatly appreciate the English language, and relish some of it’s intricacies; I am not one for grammar. Throughout my years in college I have been criticized numerous times for using commas and semi-colons so errantly. I have suffered through countless points lost on “otherwise exquisite” papers, since I often fall into the pattern of writing like I speak. If you’ve ever heard me speak: it’s really enchanting, but only if you appreciate a certain timing, and a tendency to wander aimlessly throughout ideas. Sadly I frequently cannot stop thinking ahead of what I am saying. And honestly, there are many great writers whom toy with conventional grammar (I’m not sure I’ve seen many quotation marks in Cormack McCarthy novels) I am prefacing my story this way so that I may have some defense. I certainly do not champion every rule of the English language, but I do understand the basic rules.
I have a math professor this semester that is not from this country. Having split my college career between computer science and petroleum engineering, this is certainly not a first time occurance, and it is undoubtedly not the last. This is a math class that I don’t really need for my major at all; just sort of counts toward that magic ’12 hour’ full-time student mark that keeps me in financial aide. Nothing exciting, and more or less I’m using it as something of a refresher course on how things work. I haven’t been in a math class in a minute or two. Imagine my surprise when I got my grade back on my first test. No big deal, I didn’t study alot, and was running a fever of about 102 during my battle with the incomparible swine flu. As I was reviewing my latest failure as an academic, I did notice something afoot.
One of the questions asked “at what point(s) is the function discontinuous?” After carefully examining the problem I answered the question “always continuous.” Which, for those of us that speak English seems to be a reasonable answer, right? Of course, my analysis of the function was right: the function is always continuous, but my professor disagrees with my wording – instead insisting that the proper answer is “never discontinuous.” Wait a minute, what? Unless I’m mistaken double negatives aren’t used in proper English. I’ve commited my fair share of transgressions against the English language, but my English profs would kinda thwap me over the head for that one. When I went to ask my professor about how “always continuous” and “never discontinuous” were different, she stared at me and said I did not answer the question.
When I asked for further clarification as to how always and never were not antonyms, she blinked at me and asked what an antonym is. Upon explaining that always and never are opposites, just as continuous and discontinuous are opposites, the two phrases would logically mean the exact.same.fucking.thing. And, one has the additional benefit of being better English! My professor looks at me again and tells me that I did not answer the question she asked on the test, and then my brain sort-of breaks. I have no problem explaining to an apparent-college graduate what an antonym is. I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong. I have no previous problems with my professor. I do have a problem with a professor whom cannot explain to me how or why I am wrong. Obviously we are in an argument over semantics, and I still can’t fathom how I’m wrong. But if my prof were able or willing to tell me something other than I did not answer a question, I’d greatly appreciate it.